By Elise Harris
.- Pope Francis condemned priests and laity who turn their parishes into a “business” by charging for things such as baptisms, blessings and Mass intentions – calling it a scandal that’s hard to forgive.
“It is interesting: the people of God can forgive their priests, when they are weak; when they slip on a sin, the people know how to forgive them,” the Pope told mass attendees in the Vatican’s Saint Martha guesthouse on Nov. 21.
“But there are two things that the people of God cannot forgive: a priest attached to money and a priest who mistreats people. This they cannot forgive! It is scandalous…”
The Pope centered his homily on the day’s Gospel from Luke in which Jesus turns over tables and drives out those who were selling things inside the temple, saying it is a sacred place meant for prayer and not for business.
While the many people who went to the temple to pray were good and searched for God, they were forced to pay in order to make an offering, the Pope explained, noting that although the temple was a sacred place to these, “there was corruption that scandalized the people.”
He recalled the biblical story of Anna, the mother of Samuel, who was a humble woman that went to the temple and whispered her prayers in silence, while the priest and his two sons were corrupt and exploited the pilgrims who came.
“I think of how our attitude can scandalize people with unpriestly habits in the Temple: the scandal of doing business, the scandal of worldliness,” the Bishop of Rome said, observing how many parishes have a price list readily available for baptisms, blessings and Mass intentions.
The Pope then recounted the story of a young couple who were a part of a group of college students he led shortly after being ordained. When they decided to get married, they went to their parish to ask for the civil ceremony and Mass together.
When they asked, the couple was told that they couldn’t have the Mass in addition to the ceremony because the time slots for the ceremony were limited to only 20 minutes, the couple needed to pay for two time slots in order to have the Mass as well.
“This is the sin of scandal” the pontiff explained, and alluded to the scripture passage where Jesus tells those who cause scandal that it is “better to be thrown into the sea.”
When those who manage God’s temple and its ministry, including both priests and lay people, become businessmen, “people are scandalized. And we are responsible for this. The laity too! Everyone,” the Roman Pontiff continued.
Preventing scandal is the responsibility is everyone, he said, because if we see this business-mentality going on in our parishes we need to have the courage to say something to the priest.
“It is scandalous when the Temple, the House of God, becomes a place of business, as in the case of that wedding: the church was being rented out.”
Pope Francis noted how when Jesus made his whip and started driving the people out of the temple it was not because he was angry, but rather because he was filled with the wrath of God and zeal for his house.
Jesus, he said, has “an issue with money because redemption is free; it is God’s free gift, He comes to brings us the all-encompassing gratuity of God’s love.”
So when a church or a parish start doing business it’s like saying that salvation is no longer free, the Pope explained, which is why Jesus takes his whip out in order to purify the temple of the corrupt.
He noted how the feast of the day commemorates the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple, saying that Mary enters the temple as a young, simple woman like Anna, and prayed that she would help keep God’s temple pure.
“May she teach all of us, pastors and those who have pastoral responsibility, to keep the Temple clean, to receive with love those who come, as if each one were the Blessed Virgin.”